Damn Cake

If you’ve been to my house for dinner in the last year or so, there is a good chance I served you this cake for dessert.

I first saw this recipe in The New York Times food section.  My attention was captured with Buddy the Elf like enthusiasm by the title of “World’s Best Chocolate Cake.” Its author, Yotam Ottolenghi sealed the deal (important to note–this is actually Helen Goh’s recipe, read on for explanation).

For being the world’s best chocolate cake, its outward appearance is pretty humble.  Just a single layer topped with ganache.

Even the recipe is easy; reading an awful lot like my favorite brownie recipe.

And yet–here, humble and easy translated become elegance.  The crumb is incredibly dense and rich (especially if you err on the short side of cook time) but balanced by the addition of coffee.

The recipe appeared in the NYT as precursor last fall’s publication of Sweet, the cookbook devoted entirely to Ottolenghi and his pastry chef, Helen Goh’s, desserts.

The cake recipe is as fantastic as it is easy.  However, it’s the ganache technique that was a major game changer for me.  I’ve had middling success with ganache in the past(and I’ve made a lot of it)  More often than I’d like to admit, for reasons I can’t explain, it comes out pellety (probably not a real world) despite my commitment to whisking it the right way.

In Ottolenghi and Goh’s version you get to trade your whisk for a food processor.  Before the addition of the usual cream and butter, the chocolate is basically pulverized into a fine dust making for an incredibly smooth and silky ganache.  Once you Goh ganache, you’ll never go back.

[See what I did there?  I know, I know,  a joke isn’t clever if you have to explain it.]

If you want to serve this at a party or for the holidays, the cake recipe is simple enough that you should probably make it the same day (the crust on the top is part of the cake’s charm but is lost if frozen or left over night).  Instead, if you are trying to save time do what I do–and make up 2-3 batches of the ganache at a time and freeze them.  Then, on the day of, pull the ganache, let it come to room temperature and then use as if you’ve just made it.

Why do we call it damn cake instead of world’s best chocolate cake?  Well, last fall my parents were at our house for dinner.  We were all a couple of gin and tonics into the evening by the time we got to dessert and my mom kept exclaiming how damp it was  (she meant moist).  Another round of gin and tonics and damp became damn.

By the way, the cookbook, like all of Yotam Ottolenghi’s books, is superlative.

World’s Best Chocolate Cake, also known as Take-Home Chocolate Cake

In Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh 

Ingredients

FOR THE CAKE:

  • 1 C plus 1 1/2 TBS /250 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks plus 1 1/2 tablespoons), at room temperature and cut into 3/4-inch/2-centimeter cubes, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 7 ounces/200 grams dark chocolate(70 percent cocoa solids), chopped into 3/4-inch/2-centimeter pieces
  • 1 ½ tsp instant coffee granules, dissolved in 1 1/2 cups/350 milliliters boiling water (TMH note–I use Nespresso powder)
  • 1 ¼ C/250 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ C plus 2 tablespoons/240 grams self-rising flour (see note)
  • ? C/30 grams Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons, for dusting
  • ¼ tsp salt

For the ganache

  • 7 ounces/200 grams dark chocolate(70 percent cocoa solids), broken or chopped roughly into 3/4-inch/2-centimeter pieces
  • ¾ C/180 milliliters heavy cream
  • 1 TBS light corn syrup
  • 1 TBS unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit/170 degrees Celsius. Grease a 9-inch/23-centimeter round springform pan with butter and line with parchment paper, then set aside (TMH–I’ve also used a smaller 6 inch springform with equally good results).
  2. Make the cake: Place butter, chocolate and hot coffee in a large heatproof bowl and mix well until everything is melted, combined and smooth. Whisk in sugar by hand until dissolved. Add eggs and vanilla extract and whisk again until thoroughly combined and smooth. Sift flour, cocoa powder and salt together into a bowl and then whisk this into the melted chocolate mixture. The batter here is liquid, but don’t think you have missed something; this is how it should be.
  3. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until the cake is cooked and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few dry crumbs attached. The top will form a crust and crack a little, but don’t worry, this is expected (TMH note–it’s the best part). Leave the cake to cool for 20 minutes before removing from the pan, then set aside until completely cool.
  4. Make the chocolate ganache: Place chocolate pieces in a food processor, process until fine and set aside. Combine cream and corn syrup in a small pan and place over medium-high heat. As soon as bubbles begin to appear (just before it comes to a boil), remove from the heat. Get the food processor running again, with the chocolate still inside, and pour in the hot cream in a steady stream. Process for 10 seconds, then add butter. Continue to process until mixture is shiny and smooth. (You can also make the ganache by hand; just make sure the chocolate is chopped fairly finely before adding the cream mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until almost melted, then add the butter. Stir again until the ganache is smooth.)
  5. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the ganache into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, with the plastic actually touching the top of the ganache. Set aside until it has set to the consistency you want. If you want a thin layer to spread over the cake, it can be poured over while liquid so that you get an even, light and shiny coating. For a thicker ganache with a spreading consistency, leave it for about 2 hours at room temperature. (The ganache can be stored at room temperature, providing it’s not too warm, for 3 days or kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. It can also be frozen, although it will lose a bit of its shine when defrosted.)
  6. Peel the parchment from the cake and discard. Transfer to a serving platter and spread the ganache, if using, on top of the cake. Slice into wedges, divide the cake among plates and, if using, spoon the mascarpone cream alongside. With or without icing, the cake will keep well for 4 to 5 days in an airtight container.